Meet ‘Papa Bear’, also known as Florin Tiçușan, the hardworking manager of the bear sanctuary in the Carpathian Mountains, Romania. This beautiful haven for formerly abused and captive bears is run by our partner Millions of Friends (AMP) and was completed in 2005 thanks to your support.
Here, Florin takes us along an average day working at the sanctuary, giving us an amazing insider view of that looking after this essential refuge for abused bears is like. Over to you, Florin...
4.30am - Wake up
Time for me and Betty, my beautiful rescue dog, to get up. She is a half St Bernard and we go everywhere together. I’m her third owner and found her chained up in an abandoned gas station six years ago. We’ve been a happy pair ever since, and I can’t imagine life without her.
Image: Florin with Betty (right) and another furry friend from the sanctuary.
6am - Travelling to the sanctuary
We start our 40km drive from our Brașov home to the sanctuary near Zarnesti. When the days are lighter, Betty and I have fantastic views of the snow-covered Carpathian Mountains and I like to imagine the wild bears roaming among the forests.
Thankfully, today we haven’t had any snow and so we can travel quickly. I’ve been working at the sanctuary for seven years – and I love it. We are now caring for 106 bears rescued from the unhappiest of circumstances. Helping them recover and thrive is so rewarding.
Image: the gorgeous setting of the sanctuary, among the Romanian mountains.
7am - Taking over from the night watch
We’ve made it. Betty and I jump out of the car. Betty goes to play with some of the other dogs at the sanctuary. I start my usual morning handover meeting with the night shift team.
8am - Ensuring the safety of the bears
Site inspection time. This is a favourite part of my job, and Betty runs along beside me. Some of the bears like to see her and run along too. I’m not a typical manager, who likes sitting in an office all day and making phone calls. I like to be out and about working in the open air. Each morning I walk around the enclosures to see the bears, the condition of the trees, the electric fences, the paths, and the pools. I then inform our skilled maintenance team about any problems I find and ask them to sort them out.
My work also involves some hands-on contact with bears. If bears are sick and injured, I go into their enclosure to help get them out and co-ordinate their care and treatment with Ciprian Cocianu, the vet who helps us.
Image: the sanctuary has vast natural enclosures, allowing the bears to display their natural behaviours.
9.30am - Roxana is settling in
Thankfully, this morning everything is in order and I’m pleased to see Roxana, a bear we rescued a few weeks ago, doing so well.
Roxana lived for 12 years in a small dirty cage. One of my biggest joys was seeing her running from her travel cage into her specially designed forest enclosure.
Image: Roxana is settling in well at the sanctuary. Before her rescue, she had spent 12 years trapped in a rusty, dirty cage.
10am - Checking in at the farm
I visit Hope Animal Farm also run by AMP and it's right beside the sanctuary. This is under my management as well. I grew up on my grandparents’ farm and am very comfortable with farm animals. I can even shoe a horse! The farm animals at Hope have been rescued from very difficult lives. They have suffered from neglect and even starvation. It’s so good to see them being properly cared for and regaining their health. I pet them, stroke them, make sure that they have plenty of good food and water and clean living areas.
Image: Florin on his daily maintenance and bear care walk.
2pm - Time for some maintenance work
We need to clear our paths and ditches of leaves, mud. Today I’m working with Istvan and Nicolae. We shovel and brush in the winter sunshine – it’s a privilege to be working in such a beautiful setting, the colours and depth of the forest are stunning.
Suddenly, we realise we have an audience. Betty. Lidia, Cierre, Jean and Grisha the bears are supervising our work. But I know it’s not really our work they are interested in. They are hoping I might have some apples in my pockets. And of course, I do; I throw them over the fence and they snuffle, chomp and grunt their approval. We all smile at their pleasure.
Image: Florin caring for a newly rescued bear cub.
4pm - Night falls
The end of my day at the sanctuary as it gets dark. Betty and I climb back in the car and set off towards Brasov. As we travel through the darkness, I think how each working day feels like a privilege. At times it can feel very hard and detailed to ensure the bears get the care they need. It can be risky too as they are powerful wild animals, but I feel very lucky and wouldn’t change my job for the world.